Vegetarian diets are fine so long as complete attention is paid to the various nutritional requirements of the body. In this regard, a balanced diet plan helps and the Mayo Clinic has developed a food pyramid for vegetarians. According to the pyramid, healthy eating involves the daily consumption of grains, nuts, beans legumes and protein rich foods, vegetables, fruits and unsaturated fats in definite proportions. Health is affected when dietary needs do not meet the nutritional requirements of the human body causing sickness and ill-health.
One of the most common health problems is due to insufficient iron intake because readily absorbed iron is found in fish, poultry and red meats that vegetarians do not eat. Insufficient iron leads to anemia followed by fatigue, weakness, poor cognitive development and a poor immune system that allows infections to attack easily. Vegetarians need to eat foods rich in iron and increase vitamin C intake to aid the absorption of iron in the body. Healthy cooking with spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, tomatoes, collard greens, tofu and bok choy will provide iron for the body.
Some vegetarians don’t touch dairy products like eggs and this can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12. With it come anemia, tingling sensation like pins and needles in the arms and legs and weakness. People need to consume whole grains, whole wheat pastas, oats, couscous and quinoa.
To avoid zinc (trace mineral) deficiency, vegetarians need to consume beans, which are a common substitute in healthy cooking for vegetarians and non-vegetarian. Lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans and fava beans can be used to prepare casseroles, stews, chili and burritos. Beans provide excellent sources of fiber and protein as well.
Most people are aware of the importance of calcium in building strong teeth and bones. If vegetarians don’t consume dairy products this could become a problem. Calcium shortages lead to a number of health problems including osteoporosis, thinning of the bones, dental and other medical conditions. Calcium rich foods include cereals, breads and juices fortified with calcium. Other sources of calcium include soy milk, almonds, tofu, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, bok choy and mustard greens and cheese.
Fruits are a great source of nutrients and many fruits are rich in antioxidant vitamins, fiber and minerals. Omega 3 fatty acids generally come from fishes like salmon and mackerels, but vegetarians need to get it from other sources such as flax seeds.